Can You Live Without a Cell Phone?

ByABC News via logo

Jan. 10, 2007 — -- A recent study showed that 40 percent of people surveyed can't cope without a cell phone, 35 percent of people used cell phones to escape their problems and 7 percent blamed the cell phone for a lost relationship or job.

Courtney and Tyler Tompkins could probably relate to that study. The Des Moines, Iowa, couple is addicted to cell phones, and "Good Morning America Weekend Edition" decided to test if they could even live without the gadgets.

In September, the newlyweds were at the peak of their problem, racking up more than 4,000 minutes a month. They were on the phone constantly -- in their cars, at the gym, even calling each other from different rooms inside their own house.

They claimed their phones were vital to their lives.

"I don't know what I would do if I didn't have it. I definitely need it," Tyler said.

A doctor confirmed the couple's addiction could be damaging.

"Courtney and Tyler have absolutely classic signs of addiction," said Dr. Harris Stratyner, associate professor of psychiatry at the Mount Sinai Medical Center. "Instead of relating to each other directly, they would be talking on their cell phones. So now they are putting a mechanical gadget between themselves. So it's like they are having a relationship through an object."

"GMA" gave the couple a challenge: Hang up their cell phones for five days. Hesitantly, Courtney and Tyler accepted.

The couple locked their cell phones away and prepared for a week of land lines, human interaction and even silence.

They tracked their cell phone withdrawal through video diaries. By the end of day one, temptation was already calling.

"I really want to call someone," Courtney confessed. "I wonder how my husband is doing. … I wonder if he's cheating. I'm not and it's driving me crazy."

Stratyner thought Courtney's choice of words was intriguing.

"It's fascinating that when Courtney talks about her cell phone addiction, she talks about it as if it was a lover," he said. "You know, words like 'cheating.' "

By day three, not calling was taking its toll.

"It's been really hard on Courtney and I, not being able to talk because I am never near a phone," Tyler said.

Stratyner saw their distress as a sign that cell phones had become too important to their marriage.

"Tyler and Courtney … seem to have allowed the cell phone to become … the middle man in their relationship," the doctor said. "It has now impacted their communications as a married couple."

By the end of the week, husband and wife had cracked, sneaking at least one call each. But both say they learned a lesson to appreciate face-to-face time with each other more often.

According to Stratyner, knowing when to hang up the phone and communicate in person is key to a healthy cell phone relationship.

"Moderation is the secret here," he said. "We need to say to people there's a time to use your cell phone. It's for emergencies. It's for business. But it should never take the place of relating to human beings one and one."

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